2011 NFL Mock Draft: Surprise Selections Make for Exciting First Round
The 2011 NFL Draft is only a week away. With all the rumors, projections, and mock drafts throughout the web, at this point it would just be nice to have the draft actually take place and see who each team actually drafts.
In the days leading up to the draft, everyone is suddenly an expert on which teams will draft which players. Some mock drafts make sense, while others are just ridiculous. Most mock drafts also don't factor in trades, which is what throws everyone's mocks off anyway.
The following is my latest edition of the 2011 NFL Mock Draft .Which players are going in the top ten, and which will fall out of the first round? No trades will be made, given the extreme difficulty of trying to predict those.
I tried to go against the grain in this mock draft, seeing as how so many mock drafts are almost identical.
1. Carolina Panthers: Marcell Dareus, DT, Alabama
Cam Newton is not first in the draft? Am I insane? Far from it. Unfortunately for the Panthers, there is no clear-cut number one player in this year's draft, so the pick is wide open.
There are two reasons I pick against Newton. First, the Panthers invested a pick in Jimmy Clausen, and despite how bad he's been, it would be counterproductive for the Panthers to give up on their first pick last year that fast.
Second, they needed a quarterback in 2002 as well after Chris Weinke stunk. Instead of selecting Joey Harrington or Patrick Ramsey in a mediocre quarterback class, they went with Julius Peppers. History will repeat itself and the Panthers will fix their defensive line.
2. Denver Broncos: Von Miller, OLB, Texas A&M
With Marcell Dareus off the board, suddenly Denver is panicking. Who else could the Broncos pick other than Dareus?
The Broncos do need a pass rusher, and Von Miller is their backup option should Dareus be off the board. He is in this draft, so Miller will come in and immediately make the Broncos' front seven that much better.
Miller is not the ideal pick fit-wise, but the Broncos need more sacks, and who better to pull that off?
3. Buffalo Bills: Cam Newton, QB, Auburn
The Buffalo Bills were probably not expecting Cam Newton to be here, but now that he is, they have to make a choice: do they continue with Ryan Fitzpatrick or hand the reins to the high-ceiling Heisman winner?
They will choose the latter and grab Newton, who will see a good amount of playing time his rookie season for the Bills.
4. Cincinnati Bengals: A.J. Green, WR, Georgia
I have firmly planted myself in the "A.J. Green to Cincinnati" camp since the NFL season ended, and nothing has happened that would make me change my mind.
With Cam Newton off the board, this selection is even more obvious, unless Mike Brown loves Julio Jones that much and makes an upset pick.
5. Arizona Cardinals: Robert Quinn, OLB, North Carolina
Taking a quarterback here makes no sense for one reason: coaches on the hot seat don't draft rookie quarterbacks in the first round. As a result, Blaine Gabbert is out as the Cardinals pick, even though it's a very good fit otherwise; when free agency starts up they'll quickly grab a quarterback.
With Gabbert out, the choice is between Quinn and Peterson. Their cornerback position is a lot stronger than the outside linebackers, who are both 34. Quinn is rough, but Joey Porter is a great player to learn from, and he should be able to step without without too much trouble.
6. Cleveland Browns: Patrick Peterson, CB, LSU
Yes, the Browns drafted Joe Haden in the top ten last year, but if Peterson is still on the board, there is no way they pass on him. A Haden-Peterson combo would solidify the cornerback position for the better part of a decade.
They won't draft a wide receiver, as frequently as I'm seeing that as an option. The best defensive lineman on the board (Bowers and Fairley) are too much of a risk with the sixth pick, and Peterson is one of the only people I'm willing to call a "sure thing" this draft.
7. San Francisco 49ers: Prince Amukamara, CB, Nebraska
The 49ers were happy to see so many mock drafts giving them Patrick Peterson. When the Browns select him though, suddenly they need to go to Plan B. Luckily for them, their second choice is very good.
The 49ers will simply grab the other shutdown cornerback in the draft, Prince Amukamara, to help out a secondary that needs it.
8. Tennessee Titans: Blaine Gabbert, QB, Missouri
A lot of mock drafts have the Titans taking Nick Fairley, but after having to deal with Albert Haynesworth for so many years, they don't want more trouble in the middle, even though it fills a need.
If Newton or Gabbert is still on the board at this point, there's no question in my mind the Titans pounce on the opportunity to hopefully have a franchise quarterback. Gabbert could learn from Kerry Collins, and it would be a nice landing zone for him.
9. Dallas Cowboys: Tyron Smith, OT, USC
I am nearly positive the Cowboys will make a trade here, in what would probably be the first trade of the night. They won't get full value for anyone with the ninth spot, and they know that.
However, this mock has no trades, so they will go with the best offensive tackle on the board, which is Tyron Smith. I wasn't too sure about him originally, and honestly after watching some tape of him I'm still not. He has some work to do and is not a day one starter, but if groomed right he could turn into a star.
Nonetheless, he's the best tackle available in a class of "good but not great" ones in the first round, so he goes here.
10. Washington Redskins: Nick Fairley, DT, Auburn
The Redskins are going to be one of the toughest teams to figure out. Julio Jones and a quarterback are possible with this pick, as is just about anyone else you can name who is projected in the first round.
When they see Fairley fall though, they will jump at the opportunity to grab him. The Redskins are another team that might trade, but if they stay here and Fairley's available, it's an obvious selection, though I could see them taking Da'Quan Bowers as well.
Yes, they have Albert Haynesworth at nose tackle right now, but there's no way he comes close to playing out his monster contract, so there will be an opening.
11. Houston Texans: J.J. Watt, DE, Wisconsin
As long as Houston drafts a defense player, they can't really make a bad pick, as sad as that sounds. With the players on the board for Houston, it's a 50/50 chance they will take either J.J. Watt or Aldon Smith.
With all the rumors I'm hearing about Wade Phillips liking Smith it's certainly possible he goes there, but Watt is such a force that a Watt/Mario Williams combo would fix that part of the defense, and the Texans would rather take a player who can contribute immediately.
12. Minnesota Vikings: Anthony Castonzo, OT, Boston College
Whoever the Cowboys don't pick between Castonzo and Smith will likely be the Vikings' selection. They are a team that builds their trenches first and foremost, so their first draft pick will be used there, even though they could use a quarterback.
They could trade up from round two for a quarterback, so they won't reach. Instead, they'll select one of the most proven offensive tackles in the draft, Anthony Castonzo, who can fix a line that is not remotely like what it used to be.
13. Detroit Lions: Aldon Smith, DE/OLB, Missouri
With Peterson and Amukamara off the board, the Lions won't reach for a first/second-round quality cornerback here. Instead, they will look at the various linemen that could be options.
This is one of the hardest picks because anyone that fits for Detroit (Amukamara, Castonzo, Quinn) is off the board, and anyone else (Ayers, Carimi, Jimmy Smith) is a reach.
The Lions will go with the closest fit they can find in Aldon Smith, who should be a solid defensive end, and if absolutely needed may be able to be a 4-3 linebacker even though he's a natural 3-4. It's a rare benefit of entering the draft despite being so green.
14. St. Louis Rams: Julio Jones, WR, Alabama
If Julio Jones falls this far and the Rams select him, there will be rejoicing in St. Louis, plain and simple. Sam Bradford will actually have a target to throw to, and that should help the Rams become frontrunners in the NFC West.
15. Miami Dolphins: Mark Ingram, RB, Alabama
Despite the concerns regarding Ingram lately that has caused him to slip in the draft, no one else is great value for the Dolphins here. The only realistic selection for them is Ingram, with perhaps the exception of Mike Pouncey.
16. Jacksonville Jaguars: Ryan Kerrigan, DE, Purdue
Who the Jaguars will draft can be figured out my process of elimination. They will draft a DE/OLB hybrid to address that need. They will not draft a project since Jack Del Rio could be on the hot seat, so Aldon Smith's out (and he's off this board anyway).
The Jaguars do not want to deal with injury concerns, so Da'Quan Bowers is out. That leaves Cameron Jordan and Ryan Kerrigan. Kerrigan is the blue collar-type player that Gene Smith loves, so he wins out. Both are great fits here though.
17. New England Patriots: Cameron Jordan, DE, Cal
As long as the Patriots pick a player in the trenches, they can't make any major errors. The possibilities include Cameron Jordan, Muhammad Wilkerson, Nate Solder, Gabe Carimi, and Adrian Clayborn all fit here.
Of those five, Cameron Jordan is the one who's most ready for the big time, and should have no trouble joining the Patriots' starting front seven if his Senior Bowl performance is any indication.
18. San Diego Chargers: Muhammad Wilkerson, DE/DT, Temple
Yes, Kiper and McShay both have Wilkerson going here too, but based on the players remaining on the board, this is an ideal fit.
The Chargers will be looking at Corey Liuget and Wilkerson here, and Wilkerson's build and athleticism will be too much to pass up for a team that needs that kind of presence again in the front seven.
19. New York Giants: Mike Pouncey, G/C, Florida
The Giants could use some offensive linemen help for Eli Manning, and really the choice is between Gabe Carimi and Mike Pouncey.
The difference maker will be that the Giants saw how good Maurkice Pouncey was for the Steelers, and they have no problem drafting brothers. Pouncey should have no trouble starting for the Giants and filling a need there.
20. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Da'Quan Bowers, DE, Clemson
The Buccaneers will have no trouble taking someone who has concerns as long as they have talent. Da'Quan Bowers not only fits a need, but has top five talent.
The Bucs will consider this a huge steal for them, and this may actually be the best option for both sides.
21. Kansas City Chiefs: Corey Liuget, NT, Illinois
The Chiefs could use an improvement over Ron Edwards, and with Corey Liuget available at number 21, the choice is actually quite clear.
Phil Taylor could be a possibility here too, but with the talent Liuget has I can't see Scott Poili and company passing on him. They could also draft Gabe Carimi to place at right tackle, but he'll fall down one more spot in this draft.
22. Indianapolis Colts: Gabe Carimi, OT, Wisconsin
The Colts are going to draft an offensive lineman, plain and simple. Gabe Carimi is the best one available,so he will be the one drafted. Nate Solder may be a better fit, but if Carimi is on the board the Colts won't pass him up.
23. Philadelphia Eagles: Jimmy Smith, CB, Colorado
The Eagles are not happy with Indianapolis, since Carimi would have been the perfect fit for them. Sometimes that's how the draft unfolds though.
The Eagles will look at their other options, and their second option will likely be who they select. They could select Derek Sherrod, but I don't think NFL scouts see him as a first-round talent. Instead, they'll grab cornerback Jimmy Smith, who is a good value pick here as long as they can keep the personal issues out.
24. New Orleans Saints: Adrian Clayborn, DE, Iowa
This is a tough pick, since most the players who would best fit New Orleans are off the board. In fact, the only possibility may be Adrian Clayborn unless they decide to trade down.
Clayborn has a lot of talent, but has medical issues they may affect him. Despite those, the Saints are a team that has enough talent where they can afford to take that kind of risk. Besides, if he ends up being great, then that makes the defense that much better.
25. Seattle Seahawks: Jake Locker, QB, Washington
I feel rather "conformist" for making this pick, but then again I've said this for a couple months now, and since Locker is in that second tier of quarterbacks who will be selected between 25 and 40, it's not much of a reach.
With the top three offensive tackles off the board I don't see Seattle reaching for one. They also need someone to take over for Matt Hasselbeck next year, and Jake Locker is the exact type of player who would benefit from a year on the bench to get any issues worked out, and to forget a poor senior season.
26. Baltimore Ravens: Cameron Heyward, DE, Ohio State
If Jimmy Smith were to fall here, there's no question in my mind the Ravens would grab him. However, that won't happen, and Aaron Williams or Brandon Harris is a reach here, so their choice is between a pass rusher or an offensive lineman.
I'm not convinced that Heyward is a first-round talent after a senior year that was nothing special, but Baltimore seems set on drafting him. It's either him or Derek Sherrod as the Ravens' pick, and I think Baltimore likes Heyward more.
27. Atlanta Falcons: Akeem Ayers, OLB, UCLA
I'm not exactly sure how Ayers slipped this far after being projected a lot higher a month or two ago, but the Falcons won't complain about that. Ayers is not an idea fit for this system, but he has top 20 talent, and I can't see the Falcons passing on it.
Ayers is on very few mocks for Atlanta, and I see a lot of people arguing against this as an option. He might be the best 4-3 linebacker option though, and I'm surprised that he's not only not being considered, but being dismissed.
Yes, they drafted Sean Weatherspoon last year, but there's no rule against drafting the same position so long as Ayers is taking over for Mike Peterson. Not every pick looks perfect on paper in a draft anyway, as we learned from Detroit's selection.
If you absolutely hate this pick then you can replace him with tight end Kyle Rudolph.
28. New England Patriots: Justin Houston, OLB, Georgia
While the Patriots could draft a running back here, I think they'll wait until the 33rd pick to select one, so let's not worry about that.
The best pass rusher left on the board is likely Justin Houston. They could use this pick to draft Nate Solder, and I was close to choosing that, but the pick doesn't fit even though they could use offensive line help.
As for Houston, him and Jordan will make the Patriots' front seven that much better in 2011.
29. Chicago Bears: Nate Solder, OT, Colorado
Nate Solder is the biggest risk-reward offensive tackle in this draft as he continues to learn the position. He may have to learn quickly while protecting Jay Cutler though.
Solder or Sherrod are both good picks here, but I think the Bears like the potential the big man out of Colorado has more. Beside, almost anyone is an improvement if it means Cutler doesn't get injured.
30. New York Jets: Phil Taylor, NT, Baylor
The New York Jets need a pass rusher big time. Unfortunately, all the ones with first-round talent are gone, so the Jets will have to address the nose tackle position instead since Kris Jenkins is done.
Taylor would have no trouble taking up space in the middle, and should be able to hold onto that position for a long time.
31. Pittsburgh Steelers: Aaron Williams, CB, Texas
Those that have followed my Pittsburgh news articles know that I think Aaron Williams is an ideal fit for th Steelers, far more so than Brandon Harris of the available offensive linemen.
Dick LeBeau could address any minor concerns people have about Williams without any trouble.
32. Green Bay Packers: Jabaal Sheard, DE, Pittsburgh
The Packers do no thave too many needs, so they can afford to take a risk if they desire. Since the draft is deepest in defensive ends, I see them grabbing one, though in the actual draft I see them trading this pick to a team wanting a quarterback.
A lot of mocks have them taking Danny Watkins or Brooks Reed, and all are good fits, but one name I'm not seeing is Jabaal Sheard, a playmaking defensive end out of Pittsburgh who would be a great complement to Clay Matthews, and for that matter could take over for Johnny Jolly.